So, it's been a couple of months since the Oscars changed things up, adding five movies to the Best Picture category, making it 10 nominees overall. The last time that was in effect was 1943, when "Casablanca" won.
In fact, that was the norm for nearly the first two decades of the Oscars to have 10 nominees. And, if you look back at those lists, it was pretty justified.
Take 1941, for example. The 10 nominees were: Blossoms In The Dust, Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back The Dawn, How Green Was My Valley, Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, One Foot In Heaven, Sgt. York and Suspicion. Not a stinker in the bunch. Try narrowing that list to five.
Or 1939, considered to be the greatest year in movie history: Dark Victory, Gone With The Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Ninotchka, Of Mice And Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz and Wuthering Heights. (The winners, by the way, were How Green Was My Valley and Gone With The Wind).
People have been arguing that 10 nominees dilute the value of the award. But it's not the Olympics -- they don't award silver and bronze statues.
Ten movies allow the process to be opened up. Big Hollywood blockbusters can share space with tiny indy movies. The voters get more choices, but they still have to pick one movie. And fans get to see more of their favorites represented.
Call it "The Dark Knight" rule, when that movie -- arguably the best of the year -- was passed over in favor of five movies that raked in a fraction of the box office. "Slumdog Millionaire" beat out "Frost/Nixon," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Milk" and "The Reader" -- decent movies mostly, but not in the same class. Only "Slumdog" did really good box office.
This year has shaped up to be the classic David-vs.-Goliath matchup: "The Hurt Locker," which would be the lowest-grossing movie ever to win, and "Avatar," the highest-grossing movie in history (if you don't adjust for inflation). It's ironic, because in nominating "Avatar," the Academy seems to be trying to make up for last year's mistake with "The Dark Knight." Except that instead, they are nominating mediocrity in the process, rewarding a movie that is pure style over substance.
But the Academy is banking on the movie's popularity to draw in viewers Sunday night, something that has been dwindling ever since James Cameron's last overrated blockbuster, "Titanic," swept through the Oscars.
Still, 10 movies seems to work, simply because it can allow for popular films like "Avatar" and "The Blind Side" to be lumped in with the arty films like "Hurt Locker" and "Precious." Everybody is happy (at least until the winner is announced).
Anyway, here are the predictions:
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges gets what amounts to a lifetime achievement award for "Crazy Heart." Hollywood loves it when actors get down and dirty for a role.
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side." Again, kind of a career achievement award, because Bullock hasn't picked a lot of great roles for herself over the years. Meryl Streep may win, simply because she's Meryl Streep, but she and Helen Mirren may split votes from voters who can't pick between two of the best actresses of all time.
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Inglorious Basterds." Without a doubt, the best onscreen performance by anyone in 2009. It's a shame that Christopher Plummer won't get a shot, but blame the Academy for not nominating this great actor during his long career.
Supporting Actress: Mo'nique, "Precious." Honestly, as a voter, I would not be able to choose between "Up in the Air" stars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick anyway, and Mo'nique has gotten rave reviews as one of the most horrific onscreen moms ever.
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker." Bigelow will become the first woman ever to win the director's award, and it's appropriate as well since most producers likely thought that only a man could direct such a picture. I love the work of Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino, but neither can top Bigelow. (Nor can her ex-husband, James Cameron). Reitman and Tarantino will likely win Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, however.
Best Picture: Rarely does the Academy split Best Picture and Best Director, so "The Hurt Locker" will knock off "Avatar." It'll be a triumph of art over commercialism, since only one of the two movies actually tells an interesting story.
WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: A new reality show, "Who Do You Think You Are?" (NBC, 8 p.m.) debuts, in which famous people learn about their ancestry. The first star is Sarah Jessica Parker. My guess? Her ancestors had great shoe collections.
CBS is all new with "Ghost Whisperer," "Medium" and the penultimate "Numb3rs."
On cable, James Marsters guest stars on "Caprica" (SyFy, 9 p.m.)
On Saturday, it's the 1,000th episode of "Cops" (Fox, 8 p.m.), featuring a guest appearance by President Obama. On cable, "Survivors" (BBC America, 9 p.m.) is new.
On Sunday, a Barbara Walters special (ABC, 7 p.m.) leads into the Oscars, which officially begin at 8:30 p.m. with hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.
The networks are mostly airing reruns, except for CBS, which has a new installment of "The Amazing Race" at 8 p.m.
On cable, it's the season finale of "Big Love" (HBO, 9 p.m.)
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